Sunday, June 8, 2008

Dry drunk?

I've been wondering whether a good friend of mine might not be a "dry drunk". So I looked up what I could find on dry drunk syndrome. The traits consist of:
  • Exaggerated self-importance and pomposity
  • Grandiose behavior
  • A rigid, judgmental outlook
  • Impatience
  • Childish behavior
  • Irresponsible behavior
  • Irrational rationalization
  • Projection
  • Overreaction
He has been sober for 17 years but there are times when I find him to be so mentally and emotionally chaotic and lacking in responsibility that I wonder whether he really has a program that he practices. Most of the time, he is a good friend and enjoyable to be around. But there are other times when his approach to life makes me wonder.

So I decided to read about the dry drunk state of mind. I think that the characteristic grandiosity which is self-seeking and self-serving is something that I've noticed. There isn't much thought for the other person.

The other trait of judgmentalism means that there isn't much room for acceptance of alternative ideas. I've found my friend to make value judgments about the meetings that he attends, newcomers, race, and other thoughts that seem troubling.

I've also noticed that there is confusion of priorities and little ability to weigh personal desires against personal needs. As an example, he has decided to take aerobatic flying lessons but won't fix a broken air conditioner. And I suppose one could factor in impulsivity in behavior because there is little attention paid to the consequences of actions to self.

The dry drunk is also noted for being indecisive and prefers to take no effective action. A person may think about doing something and say that they will but often there is an inability to make a decision on whether to take action and nothing gets done.

The result of all these traits can lead to mood swings that appear over exaggerated. Reasons given for negative thinking don't make much sense. The dry drunk also is unable to demonstrate emotions freely, naturally and without constraint. There isn't much emotional spontaneity. And there is little to no introspection in which the thoughts that are linked to one's attitude are examined. A dry drunk can detach to such an extent that they become aloof, display indifference, don't care one way or the other, have no special likes or dislikes, and withdraw. There is also great self-absorption, much negative thinking and major disorganization in which they are easily distracted, bored, and irritable.

I think that the latter is particularly troubling because there appears to be a definite over-reaction to events. I've seen my friend become enraged over benign mishaps that most people would just accept and move on. His lack of ambition is also troubling because he hasn't worked in over a year. He doesn't seem troubled by not working but goes to meetings at night and takes long naps in the afternoon.

I don't want to take his inventory here. But it seems that something is missing or messed up. I've read a lot of what you bloggers write and you appear to be doing, growing and benefiting from what life offers. And I've read how much self-discipline it takes to be honest, humble and responsible.

It seems to be a dangerous path for those alcoholics who think that life has suddenly become manageable again; whose sanity is beyond question; who see no need of turning their lives over to a power greater then themselves; who find personal inventories unnecessary since they are seldom in the wrong and who are no longer subject to repairing the wrongs they have done. I hope that my friend will hear something that will be helpful in progressing beyond sobriety towards recovery.


  1. I have seen several dry drunks in the AA meetings I have attended. Does any one know if there is a synonymous word for people in Al-Anon that are like that? I've met husbands of recovering alcoholics that expect the alcoholic to work the program, but do nothing themselves about their own behaviors. They are still behaving as if their alcoholic was using. They aren't getting that this is a family disease.

  2. Interesting.I kept seeing this term used on blogs, so I just looked it up also.One article said it was not moving beyond the anger stage.Dry drunks knew they had to stop drinking,but remained angry about this reality.That's why their behavior is so selfish,they are still mad about their inability to drink.

  3. You pretty much write the story of my life. Both before sobriety and some of it now.
    That's why I absolutely must remain active in RECOVERY.

    Good insights, Syd.

  4. There are many of these types in both AA & Al-Anon.

  5. I think one of the saddest things that I see in AA is the person with multiple years of "being sober" but still stuck in the dry drunk state. It is a very poor example for the newcomers and I think it is based in ego. The people that I try to emulate are the ones who are always changing, keeping an open mind and finding joy OUTSIDE OF THEMSELVES.
    (A good friend with 24 years of sobriety says his key is: "Don't drink, go to meetings...and change your whole damn life". He's a tough 300 lb truck driver who used to carry a loaded gun in his vehicle!!)

  6. Hi Syd,
    Hope you had a great weekend on your boat no doubt.
    Dry drunk, is that someone who doesnt drink but doesnt practise the program, more often than not will be a dangerous road to travel.
    Its had being constantly on the look out for your faults, praying and trying to be nice to others its so easy go start living on your old faults again and to take over the driving seat of your life with I want, I want...
    I am keeping reminding myself to try to stay in the former but I do drift back to the latter.
    Oh yes the Jungle Telegraph is our works newsletter which I am the editor!

  7. I thought you were, at first, referring to the president of our country.

  8. Well I have certainly been there-in the description you gave. For me, it's so very uncomfortable that I'm just willing to do the work to get out of it. But I DO go there. I think some folks just don't know how to get out of that mire. I'm just no longer willing to sit in it for long.

  9. i imagine there are a bunch of 'dry drunks' around. being in recovery yet not moving forward. being stuck. totally. not very self-satisfying i'd imagine... i'd think relapse would be inevitable in that stage. that he's managed 7 years amazes me. he must have the strongest will power... wouldn't it just be easier to change and be done with it???

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  11. "Dry drunk" sounds like a personality disorder. Similar to a combination of narcissism and borderline.


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